Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Criticism - Essay

Henry C. Vedder (essay date 1895)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Elizabeth Stuart Phelps,” in American Writers of To-Day, Silver, Burdett and Company, 1895, pp. 187-200.

[In the following essay, Vedder presents an overview of Phelps's major works.]

Lord Byron once said, in describing the sudden fame that came to him from the publication of the first part of “Childe Harold's Pilgrimage,” “I awoke next morning and found myself famous.” There was almost as much truth as hyperbole in the saying, and the same remark might have been made by the author of The Gates Ajar. When that book first appeared, more than twenty-five years ago, it attained a popularity of the most extensive and impressive sort. There were...

(The entire section is 3256 words.)

Carol Farley Kessler (essay date 1982)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Final Years,” in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1982, pp. 104-20.

[In the following essay, Kessler explores images of women in Phelps's late fiction.]

The final seven of twenty-five novels by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps are the work of a tired woman and lack the energetic conviction of her fiction from the 1870s and 1880s. She offers no innovative solutions to women's need for fulfillment or equality in relationships with men. Instead, from 1901 to 1908 she reworked previous material. From having concentrated upon male figures during the 1890s, she returns to her emphasis upon women—but her women have become spineless, dependent for their...

(The entire section is 5883 words.)

Carol Farley Kessler (essay date 1983)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Heavenly Utopia of Elizabeth Stuart Phelps,” in Women and Utopia: Critical Interpretations, edited by Marleen Barr and Nicholas D. Smith, University Press of America, 1983, pp. 65-95.

[In the following essay, Kessler suggests that Phelps creates an ambivalent utopia in her novels dealing with the afterlife.]

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, for those not familiar with her, lived from 1844 to 1911. She was raised in Andover, Massachusetts, where her father taught at Andover Theological Seminary, an institution founded in 1807 to maintain a conservative trinitarian theology against Harvard's unitarian innovation. Phelps's mother, also an author, died when her...

(The entire section is 3444 words.)

Judith Fetterley (essay date Fall 1986)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Checkmate’ Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Silent Partner,” in Legacy, Vol. 3, No. 2, Fall 1986, pp. 17-29.

[In the following essay, Fetterley explores the phenomenon of inarticulateness of women in The Silent Partner.]


Even before I was consciously feminist, I found Ben Jonson's Epicoene offensive for its assumption that a “silent woman” is an oxymoron. Our culture exudes commentary on the talkativeness, the irrepressible noise of women—“tell it to a woman, tell it to the world”; “a woman's tongue is never still.” Yet, as many linguists have documented, the truth is precisely opposite. Though the...

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Timothy Morris (essay date Autumn 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Professional Ethics and Professional Erotics in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' Doctor Zay,” in Studies in American Fiction, Vol. 21, No. 2, Autumn 1993, pp. 141-52.

[In the following essay, Morris argues that the elements of erotic fantasy in Doctor Zay are intended to teach readers to respect professional women.]

Elizabeth Stuart Phelps (1844-1911) was best known in her lifetime for Christian Utopian novels: The Gates Ajar (1868), Beyond the Gates (1883), and The Gates Between (1887). She is best known today for her secular masterpiece, The Story of Avis (1877), a study of Victorian courtship and marriage. But to her...

(The entire section is 5257 words.)

Jack H. Wilson (essay date Fall 1993)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Competing Narratives in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Story of Avis,” in American Literary Realism, Vol. 26, No. 1, Fall 1993, pp. 60-75.

[In the following essay, Wilson explores the ways in which The Story of Avis is a multi-textual early feminist story.]

Over the last two decades Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Story of Avis has received deserved attention as a pioneering feminist text. Writing from her observations and experiences, Phelps produced a text which argues that marriage can have a devastating effect upon the aspirations of women. The narrative that traverses the text is one of entrapment in marriage and its consequences. At...

(The entire section is 7252 words.)

Amy Schrager Lang (essay date 1994)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Syntax of Class in Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Silent Partner,” in Rethinking Class: Literary Studies and Social Formations, edited by Wai Chee Dimock and Michael T. Gilmore, Columbia University Press, 1994, pp. 267-85.

[In the following essay, Lang uses The Silent Partner to examine the difficulty for nineteenth-century writers to discuss class and gender issues.]

When literature was a thing apart and organic wholeness the sign of its value, the task of the literary critic was, if not simple, at least clear. As we begin to restore literature to history, however, we confront the problem not only of the discursive complexity of texts and...

(The entire section is 7603 words.)

Jennifer A. Gehrman (essay date 1997)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘I Am Half-Sick of Shadows’: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's Ladies of Shalott,” in Legacy: A Journal of Women Writers, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1997, pp. 123-28.

[In the following essay, Gehrman examines Phelps's interpretation of the myth of the Lady of Shalott and its embodiment of Victorian womanhood.]

The Lady of Shalott was a central icon of the nineteenth century, enjoying a level of popularity among artists and poets similar to the fame of the Roman Catholic madonna throughout the Italian Renaissance. In 1832 Alfred Lord Tennyson drew upon the mythology of the Age of Chivalry and Arthurian Legend to create in his poem, “The Lady of Shalott,” the appealing...

(The entire section is 3241 words.)

Deborah Barker (essay date September 1998)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Riddle of the Sphinx: Elizabeth Stuart Phelps's The Story of Avis,” in LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory, Vol. 9, No. 1, September 1998, pp. 31-64.

[In the following essay, Barker argues that The Story of Avis is Phelps's feminist revision of Nathaniel Hawthorne's representation of the woman artist in his The Marble Faun.]

In the late nineteenth century the woman artist was in the ambiguous position of serving both as a sign of the decline of cultural standards and as an emblem of cultural redemption through proper education. Nowhere is this dual potential better exemplified than in Nathaniel Hawthorne's representation of the woman...

(The entire section is 14561 words.)

Karen Tracey (essay date 2000)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Elizabeth Stuart Phelps: Professional Women and Traditional Wedlock,” in Plots and Proposals: American Women's Fiction, 1850-90, University of Illinois Press, 2000, pp. 148-80.

[In the following essay, Tracey explores the duality of Phelps's female characters as both radical career women and conventional marriage partners.]

A declared reformer and advocate for women's rights, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps ranks with Laura J. Curtis Bullard as the most openly radical of the writers considered in this study. In particular, she believed that women deserved better education and access to a wider range of employment opportunities. Critics have praised her for the...

(The entire section is 15306 words.)